If There Were No PowerPoint… A Plea For Conversation and Connecting to Your Audience

Slide decks can be amazing. When used right PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote, and all the other presentation tools can inspire, persuade, educate, mobilize and motivate. At XPLANE we love creating unique and compelling presentations to reach all kinds of audiences.

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Visual Thinking Sketch Notes

12-12-2016 | Roel Uleners | Visual Thinking

Download the eBook  here.
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Design Thinking vs. Visual Thinking

At XPLANE we pride ourselves on bringing clarity to complexity. We usually do this for clients, but sometimes the need strikes closer to home. This happened recently at a social event when I heard the terms “design thinking” and “visual thinking” used interchangeably (not for the first time—and definitely not for the last). Now, most people who work in business strategy, innovation, or problem-solving can tell you that design thinking and visual thinking are not the same, but not everyone can easily articulate the difference. So in the interest of clarity and some serious cred at your next post-work cocktail hour, here’s a quick explanation of the difference between the two.
Simply put, design thinking is a method for problem solving. IDEO popularized the method in the early 1990s by applying it to product design. Since that time, a variety of design thinking approaches have been applied to an ever-increasing range of challenges. Think of it as a constellation of iterative steps and best practices rather than a specific process. Most of these approaches share the same basic activities:

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The Secret to a Successful Business: Trust

12-12-2016 | Katie Augsburger | Culture

When XPLANE launched our unlimited vacation policy more than a year ago, nearly everyone outside of the company was skeptical.
The responses were typical. “We couldn’t do that here. If I gave my team unlimited vacation, I would never see them again.” “It works for XPLANE because you can trust your team not to abuse it, but that just wouldn’t work at my company. People here couldn't handle it.”
What makes XPLANE so special? Why can we trust our staff with a completely flexible work environment and unlimited paid time off (PTO) when other companies feel compelled to enforce a stricter “butts-in-chairs” policy?
This may sound too simple, but the difference is we can trust our employees because we do trust our employees. XPLANE believes in what I like to call a “trust-first mentality.”
Unlimited PTO is phased into our employee benefits after the first year, but our completely flexible work environment starts from day one. If you are part of the team, we trust that you are an all-star, and you will always be treated as such.
Our “trust-first” way of thinking is backed by data.
It’s proven that happiness and performance increase when trust is extended. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that a 10% increase in trust in an organization had the same impact on employee satisfaction as a 36% increase in pay.
In an interview with Harvard Business Review around the release of his book Team of Teams, General Stanley McChrystal discussed the importance of extending and displaying trust from day one He told HBR, “I try to exhibit trust in small ways. In a briefing, if somebody asks me for a decision, I might turn to a subordinate and ask them to handle it. I don’t ask for specifics, and I’m very overt—almost theatrical—about it. Everybody else sees it. The message is ‘I trust you guys to handle this stuff,’ and that can grow virally throughout an organization.”
You can’t just say you trust them. You have to prove it.
Importantly, trust is hollow if it’s not extended fully. Many companies say they believe in and value trust, but then they require complicated approvals for a vacation day, or they install video cameras or Internet monitoring. When employers do that, they are verbally touting trust, but their actions say, “I can only trust you if I can see and approve of what you are doing.”
It’s hard to imagine that kind of monitoring outside of work. “Of course I trust my best friend, I just have to watch where she goes all the time and check her phone records to prove I can trust her.” People who acted like that might find themselves friendless pretty quickly.
Employment relationships are the same: if organizations want engaged and happy employees, leaders must find ways to not only extend trust but also expand autonomy. For XPLANE, having a completely flexible work environment is a way to do that. XPLANE employees embrace a culture where we meet client deadlines while delighting and wowing our customers. With the flexible work environment, we convey to our employees, “I trust you to both meet deadlines and produce world-class quality work. Everything else is up to you.”
If employees are confident that we trust them to take whatever time they need to recharge as long as the work gets done on time, the work gets done on time. If they know that leadership believes the quality remains high whether you finish a project from the studio or from your sofa, the quality never suffers.  
In fact, more often than not, our well-rested employees produce even higher quality projects than expected because the more trust that is given, the better everyone performs.  
We were thrilled when Fortune Magazine recognized XPLANE as #3 in the U.S. for flexibility. It is recognition that we are on the right path in providing trust in our employees. Our goal is not to be the anomaly; instead, we’d like to start a conversation that might lead to a movement to change the future of work.   
We’ll start the conversation by encouraging leaders to ask themselves, what would my company look like if we allowed complete flexibility? What behaviors would I have to change or develop to make this happen? How would I feel to work at a place that trusted me even when I wasn’t anywhere in sight?

We invite you to follow our series as we explore workplace flexibility and trust and how we make it work for XPLANE. Until then, we encourage company leaders to look at their current policies and philosophies regarding flexibility and how that may be reinforcing or eroding trust in their organizations.
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It’s Your Culture, Not Your Compensation Program That’s Broken

12-01-2016 | Katie Augsburger | Culture
I recently read Todd Zenger’s article in Harvard Business Review, “The Case Against Pay Transparency.”  Mr. Zenger makes great point
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It’s Your Culture, Not Your Compensation Program That’s Broken

11-23-2016 | Katie Augsburger | Culture

I recently read Todd Zenger’s article in Harvard Business Review, “The Case Against Pay Transparency.”  Mr. Zenger makes great point after great point about how a transparent pay program can destroy a culture. He argues that opening up pay conversations and information with employees can lead to a culture of politicking, division, and disengagement.

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Strategic Planning is Dead

11-23-2016 | Sara Mesing | Strategy

Long live strategic planning!

If you are on a January 1 fiscal, you are either in the quagmire of “strategic planning” right now or you are just starting to resettle into the day-to-day after the offsite with the leadership team and the often corresponding submission of the FY17 budget.
As a consultancy, we receive requests to help with almost every aspect of strategic planning. Yes, we can facilitate the offsite and drive alignment with your executives so that decisions are made in two days. We can reset the game board so that leaders are pushed to think big and generate radical, new possibilities. And we can take the strategy that was developed by Mckinsey/ BCG/ Bain/ insert other traditional management consultancy and we can unpack the content so that tough trade off decisions are sustained over time, at all levels of the enterprise.
But here’s the catch:

No request for strategic planning is the same.

Half of our clients seem almost allergic to defining their efforts as strategic planning. The other half willingly embrace that title. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this pattern. Our clients come from organizations big and small, corporate and non-profit—everyone is all over the board in how they describe this annual, or three-year, or five-year business ritual.

Logically, it follows that no approach to strategic planning is the same either.

Invariably, there are the long semantic rabbit holes of defining purpose versus mission versus values versus vision. Then there are questions about business model versus operating model, and strategy versus the “Strategic Roadmap.” Every organization has their own vernacular and cultural norms that they bring to these terms.
As consultants, we have watched and observed with fascination. A defining logic always emerges. Decisions are made. Marching orders are given. Budgets are submitted. And then we all go through it again next year, or in three years, or in five years. Godspeed.

Stay tuned for XPLANE’s point of view on strategic planning with the release of our Strategy Planning Product slated for Q2 2017. 
Click here to get on the waitlist for the Strategy Planning Product.

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Six Best Practices for Driving Culture Change

11-23-2016 | Dave Gray | Culture

When your employees are disengaged, resistant to change, and don’t fully understand what your company’s strategy is, it’s time for a culture change.

Easier said than done.

We know changing an embedded culture isn’t an easy task: it requires deeply understanding your current company culture, envisioning where exactly you want your company to be in the future, and doing the hard work to change behaviors and routines that your people have solidified over decades.

We’re here to help. Through our 20+ years of experience working with large companies on organizational performance and transformation, we’ve compiled six best practices for driving company-wide culture change and making it stick.

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From Data to Stories: How to Make Your Metrics More People-Centered

11-23-2016 | Jacob O'Brien | Strategy

So often data is overwhelming. It comes to executives in an incomprehensible wall of data, as a spreadsheet, or as a lengthy deck with poorly conceived charts and graphs that are equally confusing. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Great data storytelling shows a meaningful and clear relationship with the reality it represents. People should be able to quickly and clearly understand how that data relates to a goal or a strategy, so they can actually take action to reach that goal or implement that strategy.
Over the last two decades, XPLANE has developed a framework that allows us to turn complex data into stories that are at the right level and with the right narrative arc for the audience to clearly understand the story.

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Why a Company Vision and the Process of Creating It Is Critical: An Interview with Dave Gray

11-23-2016 | Traci Jones | Vision

How do you define “company vision”?

You're asking a question that I love to hear because I am an artist, and my life has, in many ways, been devoted to visual thinking and visualization. When I think of a vision, the thing that comes to mind is that it's an exercise of imagination. A vision for an organization, or for any group, is about creating a picture of the future that doesn't exist yet.

Why is it so important?

What’s powerful about a vision is that it provides a picture of a future that people are excited about, and it allows organizations to start moving forward as a collective group of people.
When people can get excited about the vision, they have a reason to come to work in the morning. It provides a shared picture that everyone can work towards and serves as a gauge that represents progress. Ultimately it gives people an approach that allows them to structure activities in a way that feels productive. People need that.

What makes a vision successful?

I believe a good vision should be something that's inspiring, believable, and plausible. Even if it is a stretch, it should be possible, and it should be something that is shared. The more concrete picture you can paint of the future the better because for most people, future vision is very vague.
It is also a deep recognition of something that is very real, honest, and authentic. It’s a dialogue between the present and the future. Every organization, consciously or unconsciously, has something it is trying to become. It has the next stage of itself that's trying to emerge. It's the nature of growth; it's the caterpillar turning into the butterfly or the snake shedding its skin.
The creation of a good vision should consider three things: what is the best future you can imagine, what capabilities do you currently have, and how are your customers going to evolve? If organizations are able to combine their current set of core strengths and unique capabilities with a clear and shared picture of the future, all while keeping an eye on the evolving landscape of their customers, the company vision will become a powerful tool.

Where do you start?

If it can't be drawn, it can't be done. The reason I say that is because I believe visualizing the future state is not only a good exercise in imagination, but it also forces people to think it through. If someone tells me their vision is world peace, and I ask them to draw a picture of what that looks like, it forces the imagination to figure out exactly how world peace would look in the U.S., in Syria, and in Paris. Simply saying their vision is world peace is dramatically different than visualizing world peace. The visualization process surfaces issues that can help people realize if their vision is too big or too hard and ultimately implausible. 

Who should be involved?

Creating a visual that depicts the future state vision is critical, and the process by which it is created is equally as important. Developing a vision cannot be an exercise that is done with the just the CEO. It has to be created with the team, and it has to be validated. When a vision is co-created with the organization, the end result is a shared picture that builds alignment within the team. We strongly believe that people support what they help build. The co-creation process creates a sense of ownership and advocacy that cannot be achieved by creating a vision at the top levels of management and pushing it down to employees.

How do we ensure that the company vision is present and relevant to our day jobs?

The picture of a vision should serve as a north star or guiding light to help accomplish, in day-to-day tasks and larger initiatives, the organization’s ultimate goals.
Organizations have a natural tendency to seek efficiency and increase utilization and profitability; however, if you run a machine day and night, it's going to break down. You need to have some time for maintenance.
It's the same with people; if the only goal is to optimize every hour of every day, it’s harder (or nearly impossible) for people to have the time they need to think about how they can do things smarter, different, or better. If there is a picture of where the organization is trying to go, things will have to be done differently to get there. The vision can serve as a tool for counterbalancing the natural tendency to optimize all the time. Reflecting on the vision affords people the opportunity to pause the machine and make sure they are balancing the short-term strategies with the long-term goals. The most effective way to do this is to make sure the vision is part of daily conversations. Hang it in meeting rooms, common spaces, and the foyer—anywhere visible. Encourage managers to use it with their teams and to think of it as a guidepost when making strategic decisions. Refer to it as a leadership team when determining new objectives. Include it as part of new employee onboarding. Set aside time each month, quarter, or year to revisit the vision and remind everyone of the best possible future for the organization.
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